Google Accessibility – Partially Digested Observations

Holy moly, that was an information-packed session today!  And, what a difference from last time I saw Google at #CSUN.

I saw Google’s presentation on accessibility when I attended the #CSUN conference (I believe) four years ago.  At that time, I got the impression that Google was “phoning it in.”  The reps they sent at that time were clearly lower-level, more tech-oriented staff and didn’t present their story to the #CSUN audience in a compelling or memorable way.  If I were cynical, I’d say their approach at that time smacked a bit of technical smugness.

Fast forward four years…

Today, there were no fewer than 15 people from Google, including product managers from their core applications, internal accessibility evangelists, and development staff.  They’re not messing around now.  Here are some of the standout items, from my perspective:

  1. Google’s development team is working hard to standardize keyboard navigation across their core applications.  This is huge, and will pay big dividends for all users in the very near future.
  2. For obvious reasons, Calendar was not mentioned much.  To Google’s credit, they did not evade critical questions.  Calendaring is freakin’ hard – my team made a public web calendar for the CSUN campus a few years back, and I can assure you that that effort was no joyride:  www.csun.edu/calendar
  3. Google acknowledges the problem of keyboard shortcut collisions.  Sorry folks, there are no “standard” keyboard shortcuts but the ones that have come about due to historical cruft of the software industry.  People using niche apps will unfortunately be caught in the lurch.  This isn’t all bad though, because…
  4. …Google’s larger plan is to have their entire ecosystem in the cloud.  Like it or not, this is the future of computing.  This hearkens back to a conversation I had with my Computer Science colleagues regarding “the cloud” about five years ago.  My question back then was “what happens when everything is available in the cloud?”  Answer:  “we pick and choose those services that we need and trust.”  Google is building those services today, and from what I can see, I trust that they’re working on it.  BUT…we have to continue to push for more accessibility.  If we don’t evangelize and make it a priority, it just won’t happen.
  5. Speaking of evangelism, I get the distinct sense that the push for accessibility within Google is an uphill battle at times, but the organization is really starting to “get it.”  Working as a director of a web development team in the CSU with responsibilities around ensuring accessibility on my campus, I can relate.
  6. The advances in accessibility built into the Android OS (Accessibility Service Framework and APIs) are downright impressive.  The work around creating an intuitive “navigation language” alone merits a gold star in my opinion.
  7. Google’s position of supporting current browser version “minus two” is a goddamn blessing and should be shouted from the mountain tops.  I feel very strongly about this, and have written a browser support statement to clarify why I take a similar position with my team’s work:  http://www.csun.edu/sait/web/browsers.htm

Maybe it’s just me being cynical again, but I could kind of sense a faint hint of technical smugness today.  Its character was different though, and I think that comes from the audacious scope of what Google is trying to do as a company.  When you throw around statements like “the web is our platform,” I guess it’s hard to be humble.

2 thoughts on “Google Accessibility – Partially Digested Observations”

  1. Thanks for doing this. There is a lot to digest and also the need for an outside review of the “improvements.” I look forward to others opinions on where Google is now regarding accessibility. Enjoy the rest of the conference.

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